Doomsday scenario for Leafs

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

All Ron Wilson needs now is a blindfold and a cigarette.

More and more, the Maple Leafs coach has the look of a condemned man.

His team is in another free fall. Tuesday night's 5-3 loss to the big, young and fast Los Angeles Kings was Toronto's fourth in a row, and the dream of making the playoffs has become one of those lottery deals, with the huge odds against. Toronto remains in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, with the last-place Carolina Hurricanes nipping at their heels.

The Leafs continue to have trouble scoring, even though they lead the NHL in shots. Their goaltending continues to be spotty, with rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson cleanly beaten on at least three of the Kings goals.

And, well, there's the matter of next year's first-round draft pick, or lack thereof.

The only consolation for Wilson on Tuesday night was the continued good play of forward Niklas Hagman, who scored two goals and now has 20 on the season, the young line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin, and the play of Kings winger Dustin Brown, who will be an alternate captain on Wilson's American team at next month's Olympic Games.

Next to 20-year-old defenceman Drew Doughty, Brown was the best player on the ice, picking up three assists in leading the L.A. charge with his speed and creativity. The Kings fired 33 shots at Gustavsson, with all of their goals, save an open-net deal with 9.5 seconds left, lasers.

"I pray to God that Dustin Brown is this good three weeks from tonight (at the Olympics) because he dominated our defence," said Wilson, who dumped on his team for playing too much of an individual game. "They were trying to hit him and he was bouncing off them and he was protecting the puck. We couldn't get it away from him and he made some guys look pretty bad."

Brown was huge on all three second-period goals he assisted on, setting up defenceman Jack Johnson in the high slot for the Kings' second goal, stealing the puck from Wayne Primeau and setting up Jarret Stoll for the third, and then forcing Jason Blake off the puck, allowing Ryan Smyth a free shot for the winner at 18:42 of the third.

The Kings used their speed and size to great advantage, especially in the Leafs' end with some effective cycling. The Leafs had their chances, but Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick was solid when he needed to be, including a great save on a redirection by defenceman Jeff Finger early in the third.

"Sometimes we're trying too hard. You just have to relax and lift the confidence," said defenceman Tomas Kaberle, when asked what it will take to right the ship. "It seems like right now we don't have the confidence to do the things we were doing when we were winning. And we have to find a way ... as soon as possible."


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